X-ray is a type of imaging which has been in use since 1895. The technique uses x-rays (a type of radiation) which can create pictures of bones and other tissues.

If there is a chance that you may have fractured a bone, have a problem with a joint or your doctor wants to check that there are no abnormalities with certain tissues, you may need to have an x-ray. X-rays are also good for showing abnormalities in the heart, lungs and abdomen. 

What happens

X-ray radiation can pass through the body but not through bone or certain tissues. The radiographer will ask you to lie, stand or rest the part of the body that needs x-raying on a special surface. Your body part will be in between a drawer that contains film (a bit like the film used in some cameras) and the x-ray machine.

You will have to keep as still as you can so that the picture does not come back blurry.

The x-rays will pass through your body and mark the film in the drawer, but in some places (such as where there is bone) the x-ray cannot pass though and this will stand out on the film. The x-ray is developed and then studied on a computer screen.

The doctor may need more than one x-ray so that you can see the bone (or other body part) from different angles.

How long will it take?

A few minutes – not long at all!

Will it hurt?

You will not be able to see or feel the x-ray. However, if you have lots and lots of x-rays it can damage some of the cells in your body. This is why the radiology staff wear special protective clothing or leave the room briefly when the x-ray is being taken. We have to check all girls aged 12 or over who are having this procedure to see if they are pregnant. This is to reduce the risk of harming any unborn babies.

Compiled by:
Great Ormond Street Hospital
Last review date:
November 2016